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The National Mall 1/20/09

The National Mall 1/20/09

We have a new president.  As a person of mixed-race today quite special for me, as it was for most Americans, regardless of their ethnic-identity. There is not a lot for me to to add to the chatter about our new Commander-in-Chief.  I am hardly qualified to be a political pundit so I won’t even try. As I watched the oath and parade I was taken, of course, by the architecture. Everything was designed to be grand and looked so beautiful on TV. I have never been impressed with Washington in person. Though, there are exceptions.

The National Building Museum is appropriately, exquisite. Its exterior is playful and pretty. Its interior is a marvel of light and air. It was initially designed as the pension office for Civil War veterans and, as such, originally had short ramp-like steps. This feature made it , perhaps the first building designed for this disabled in the country. That is something beautiful in its own right. It is not the rule unfortunately.

Most of the city and its monuments, although grand, are unexpectedly dingy in person and downright gaudy in design.  But, they photograph majestically and that is how we know them. Washington, like Los Angles, the other city we all know from pictures, is a giant stage. Its buildings are the set-pieces of our republic and we know them by the individual moments in history with which they cooresepond.  Perhaps that is why they look so dull in-person. The knock-off classical temple that houses Lincoln could never compete with the lyrical beauty of the great speech delivered in front of it.

The true architectural grandeur of the city comes when it is taken on as a whole. The image to the right is from the inauguration this morning. It is with photos like these, with the entire mall and a sea of citizens within, that we understand that the city truly lives up to L’Enfant’s design “for aggrandizement and embellishment . . . at any period however remote.”

 

 

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I was browsing Barack Obama’s beautifully designed website reading the mythologizing account of Joe Biden’s life story when I noticed an oddly titled video over in the corner.  It said Barns for Obama.

This is the first architectural endorsement I have seen in the campaign.

Anyway, just a little something to tide the blog over until I am fnished with the research project I am currently working on.  In the spirit of equal time perhaps I should do a rundown of the McCain’s six houses… or is it nine?

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According to the Cuban website Cubarte, the oldest church in Cuba has just finished a complete restoration.

flickr/users/jorge6880

Credit: flickr/users/jorge6880

flickr/users/Barry Cornelius

Credit: flickr/users/Barry Cornelius

Parrish Church Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa in the Guantanamo province of Cuba pictured above was restored to mark the 497th birthday of the town of Baracoa.

The article is interesting, not because of the supposed restoration project, which is wonderful, but because so far as I can tell Parrish Church Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Baracoa is NOT the oldest church in Cuba.  Not wanting to publish any erroneous information I did some fact checking and it appears the less stately but still interesting Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Popa is the oldest remaining church structure in the nation.

Flicker.com/users/masochismtango

Credit: Flicker.com/users/masochismtango

It was on the coast near Baracoa that Columbus landed in 1492 and it is where Diego Velázquez, one of the conquistadors that sailed with Columbus invoked a cabildo (an impromptu city-council of conquistadors) in a power grab aimed at usurping the general authority of Columbus’s son Diego. That savvy political move lead to the founding of the first European town on the island. That doesn’t mean the Spanish Baroque looking church in Baracoa is the oldest though.  The only date I have found attached to it is 1833, more than three hundred years after the founding of Baracoa, which leads me to believe that Nuestra Señora de la Asunción was likely built on the site of the oldest church in Cuba.

Even more strange, the church pictured in the Cubarte article doesn’t even seem to be the same church.

Whichever church is oldest, Cuba remains something of a preservation supermarket.  The United States embargo to helped freeze the built environment of Cuba in the late 1950’s but the blockade has been a double edged sword.  The economic consequences of the embargo may have prevented historic buildings from being razed but they also make it difficult for preservationists, foreign and domestic, to properly caring for whats been saved.

Hopefully that will all change.  With Cuba increasingly turning to  tourism as a source of income and the new president Raul Castro slowly opening Cuba up we could perhaps see Cuba as a future leader in the preservation movement.   Couple that with the possibility of Obama presidency loosening travel restrictions to the country and who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to visit Cuba and find out where its oldest church is for myself.

Have you been to Cuba?  Do you know what its oldest church is?  Do you have anything to add?  Please click to ADD A COMMENT and let yourself be heard.

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